The Complete Persepolis
Marjane Satrapi

From the inner flap: Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today. 

I’m a fan of banned books, and I picked up The Complete Persepolis specifically because it was challenged then banned from the middle school curriculum in Chicago Public School system early in 2013. From everything I read, high school teachers were still allowed to teach it. As the book lay on my kitchen counter, with crisp corners and an uncracked spine, I thought, I can understand parents of seventh graders wanting to reassurance about the contents of a heavy book before their kids read it, but by high school, kids need to know this stuff. Whatever “this stuff” was, I didn’t precisely know. I hadn’t read the book yet.

Now that I have, I can say the thing that struck me most is that Satrapi is about my age. What does that mean, exactly?

It means that Satrapi begins her story with the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when she was ten years old. When I was ten years old, my biggest worry was being called four-eyes by the boys in class because of my new, chosen-by-mom glasses.

It means that in 1984, when I was fourteen and swooning over the members of Duran Duran, Satrapi was fending for herself in an Austrian Catholic boarding school. And a few years later, at sixteen and seventeen–while I was whining about having to read The Odyssey in verse and writing poetry instead of paying attention during AP American History–Satrapi was devouring essays by Freud, probably in German.

Most of all, it means that there was barely a two-page spread in Persepolis that didn’t teach me something–and that in spite of the semester of Middle Eastern history I opted for in college, I know next to nothing. How does something like that happen? I’m still flipping back and forth in the book and Googling events and places to make sure I have the timeline straight for the fifteen years Satrapi chronicles.

I’m not sure if I should feel ashamed of or grateful for my sheltered upbringing. What I am sure about is that most seventh grade kids can handle the contents of Persepolis–especially when read in the classroom, where it would be accompanied by teacher-guided activities and discussions. I think it’s especially pertinent now, as domestic terrorism grows, encouraged by many in our own government. I see no reason why our middle school students shouldn’t read it, discuss it, and let it seep into their psyches. Are violence and torture depicted? Yes. Much more than violence, though, Satrapi depicts her struggle to understand, belong, and thrive on her own terms. What teenager can’t identify with those desires? I’ll encourage my daughters to read it this summer.

What about you? What were you doing when you were ten? Fourteen? Seventeen? And what do you not know?

 

For June 28: Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman